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Proposal would increase police training, accountability

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UNDATED (WSAU)  All Wisconsin police officers would be better trained and more accountable under a bill to be re-introduced in the state Legislature next year. Milwaukee Senate Democrat Lena Taylor and Assembly Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay are revisiting the issue. That’s after a newly-released video showed that Milwaukee police officers ignored pleas for help by a robbery suspect who struggled to breathe for almost eight minutes before dying in police custody.

The cause of Derek Williams’ death was changed this week from natural causes to homicide, after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published the video on Sunday. Now, Taylor and Bies are reviving a bill that failed to pass in 2009. It would require officers to be trained in health conditions and cultural differences that can affect officers’ procedures for pursuing and arresting suspects. A state board would set the standards.

Taylor said the state’s largest police union supported the measure three years ago, but former Senate Democratic leader Russ Decker blocked a full vote. Taylor said officers need to be better trained in what she called “cultural competency.” She says it’s a key to improving relations between Milwaukee Police and the community. Bies, a Door County sheriff’s deputy for three decades, said police chiefs are responsible for installing proper attitudes in officers.

Lawmakers have been hesitant to tell police what to do. In 2008, a bill to require Wisconsin officer candidates to have psychological exams went nowhere. It was one of several measures proposed by relatives of six people killed in Crandon in 2007 by 20-year-old officer Tyler Peterson. He never had a psychological exam. And Peterson killed himself a day after the slayings, which occurred after his girlfriend had jilted him.

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